Archive for the ‘ Ishinomaki ’ Category

BBC Interviews It’s Not Just Mud project

 I’m currently up here in Ishinomaki with the group, so I may be a little biased, but thought it would be of interest to FVJ members to see this interview by BBC News with Jamie El-Banna, founder of the It’s Not Just Mud volunteer group, based in the Watanoha district of Ishinomaki, about the early days of coordinating volunteers, and the experiences that drove him to establish a long-term volunteer-based relief organization for Tohoku relief. 
It’s Not Just Mud has already collaborated with Foreign Volunteers Japan on countless projects, such as our events with the orphanage in Ofunato, for doing several soup kitchens, providing a rest station for deliveries with the SaveMinamisoma project, providing a distribution center for the Coats for Kids project, and for hosting many volunteers from FVJ looking to help out up North.    
The It’s Not Just Mud project is certainly my first recommendation now for people wanting to head up to volunteer in Tohoku. Please check out the video at the following BBC New Link:
For more information on the INJM project, please visit the webpage
 I will be writing a follow up post on my latest stay with the group, and will also be doing some posts on local businesses that they’ve helped get back on their feet over the last several months. 

Ishinomaki Case Study: Recovery of Maruka Pro Fish Shop

Maruka Pro shop in November 2011

Although this article is a little different than what we usually post on FVJ, I thought it might be interesting to look at the current state of businesses around Tohoku, and discuss the steps they are taking in order to re-open.  

In the case of the downtown of Ishinomaki, the first business to recovery quickly with a unique plan that I had come across was that of the Maruka Pro Fish Shop. 
Fig 1: Maruka Pro Shop shown during the initial post-tsunami clean-up.

There may have been a time when recovery from a disaster for small businesses just involved getting the mess cleaned out, the damage repaired, new product ordered in, and hanging a “business as usual” sign on the door. However, this is no longer the case. Even for small businesses, the business model today is complex and being able to continue following an interruption of any kind relies on a wide understanding of all the influences that could affect it as well as having carefully prepared plans to get those influences back together following the disruption.

Not only do small and medium-sized businesses need to struggle and work hard and fast to survive commercially, when battling against big-box stores and internet-shopping. While potentially being exposed to incidents that are outside their control, small businesses in most industries also need to operate within tight-industry regulation, and to stay on top of their own business processes, personnel and procedures.

“80 percent of businesses without a well 
structured recovery plan are forced to shut down 
within 12 months of a flood or fire.”
(Source: London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 2003)

Sadly, as many as 80% of businesses hit by fire, storm damage, tsunami, or earthquake go out of business within a year because they have not planned effectively for recovery. The downtown Ishinomaki case makes this especially clear. Nine months following the disaster, many of the businesses in the downtown core, and the majority of businesses in the Watanoha district have failed to come back online. 

 May 25th Reopening poster for Maruka 

Estimates of the direct material damage of the tsunami are said to exceed ¥25 trillion ($300 billion), but insurance and government coverage will only be able to cover a fraction of those losses. Although there’s not much that can be done in the cases where an entire business’ physical location, and many of the management and staff members were lost, there are several other cases where the lack of a business continuity plan to resume business elsewhere, also contributed to the post-disaster closure of the business. The case of the Maruka Pro Shop in Ishinomaki is a strong case for following the Best Practices scenario for post-disaster Business Continuity Practices.

Business continuity planning is not only necessary to protect an organization against extreme disasters such as the big-three cases that affected the East Coast of Japan, it’s also important to take into account the importance of preparing for electrical problems, IT failures, theft, damage, or irregular and unseasonal local conditions. What should a business do in the case that their best people suddenly resign? Or if one of their key suppliers goes under? Or a new competitor opens up nearby?  Creating contingency plans for all of these cases, on top of larger disasters, and understanding the impact on day-to-day business planning,  is essential for maintain both day-to-day business, and preparing for long-term profitability.

Despite being completely gutted by the tsunami, losing long-term access to the local fishing pier due to infrastructure damage, losing ice suppliers, and losing many of its customers in the local region, the Pro Shop Maruka managed to reopen its doors on May 25th (only 64 days after the tsunami) in the hard-hit coastal district of Ishinomaki, thanks to effective business continuity practices.

Pictures of the re-opening day of Maruka Pro Shop on May 25th.

The Maruka Pro Shop is managed by a Mr. Masahiko Sasaki and his wife, Mrs. Kazuko Sakaki. Mr. Sasaki has come to be known as the “Walking Fish Dictionary” thanks to his expansive knowledge of different types of fish, their habitat, uncountable ways of preparing and cooking fish, as well as knowing much about the deep link between the sea and Japanese folklore. He can always be seen first thing in the morning at the local sea ports, haggling and bidding for the biggest and heartiest fish to be caught.

Mrs. Kazuko Sasaki comes from a long lineage of fishermen. She is the eldest daughter of the president of “Miyamoto Fisheries” which has been operating since well before the Meiji Era. It was her idea to refocus Masahiko’s business on the professional sector, to become a provider of top quality and bulk fish products for small and medium sized businesses across Miyagi.

The Sasaki’s had lived through smaller disasters before. They were familiar with how a tsunami could affect local businesses and the fishery sector, by experiencing the tsunami generated by the Great Chile quake of 1970.  They knew that fishing supplies would be momentarily disrupted, and expected there to be damage to their main shop.

They studied the breakdown of their business, and worked hard in developing business continuity planning processes and practices that would ensure that, whatever the disaster, the day to day activities of their shop would be able to get back up and running quickly. This included clear processes for their employees so that there is no doubt what action to take, whatever the circumstances. In the case of potential tsunami, the shop workers were well trained in escape routes to nearby hills. The Sasaki’s emphasized that personal safely was the first priority, and told their staff to drop what they were doing, and to run to the hills.  

Since Pro Shop Maruka is a middleman, acquiring fish directly from the ports, and selling it to smaller and mid-size businesses, rather than walk-in customers, they were very dramatically hit by the tsunami. Since most businesses in the downtown district had their first floors devastated, and partial flooding of the second floors, many businesses ended up going out of business completely. Since insurance companies refused to cover coastal businesses with tsunami or flooding insurance, and government compensation would only be enough to cover personal living expenses, most businesses without and effective business continuity plan have been unable to cope post-tsunami.

Employing teams of local volunteers, coordinated through local Volunteer Centers, and by visiting the temporary offices of Peace Boat and other local post-disaster NPOs, the Sasaki’s were able to get their shop cleaned out, remove the tsunami sludge, and remove any rotting insulation within the first couple weeks following the disaster.

Once their store-front was moderately recovered by early April, they followed up with a plan to offer the front part of their shop to their pre-disaster customers. Since the majority of coastal businesses were devastated, this means that many of their own customers had also lost their shop fronts. An important element of disaster planning involves contingency plans for not only the acquisition of materials, and relocation, it also means finding ways to protect or recover your customer base.

In Pro Shop Maruka’s case, they extended the offer to four of their local customers, who had lost their own businesses completely. The Takigawa Japanese restaurant, Baorai Sushi, Ishikawa Sukiyaki, and the Loulan Chinese Restaurant. With a date set for a May 25th opening, the Sasaki’s invited the four businesses to set up small stalls in the front of the Pro Shop Maruka. They worked with the Ishinomaki 2.0 and IDRAC (Ishinomaki Disaster Recovery Assistance Council) to secure loans for buying new stoves, fridges, and supplies, and used the power of social media and local newspapers and radio broadcasts for promoting their business.

Pro Shop Maruka excelled at putting their Business Continuity Plan into action, and serves as a beacon for other tsunami, and disaster-affected businesses to prepare for worst-case scenarios comprehensively and effectively. 

It’s Not Just Mud

INJM Working on a landslide-relief project in Onagawa town.

This is one of the groups in Tohoku that has playedgracious host to Foreign Volunteers Japan members on several visits up to Tohoku so far. The group was originallyformed in the famous “Tent City” in Ishinomaki, that ran frommid-March until September 30th, on the grounds of Senshu University inIshinomaki.
The founder of the group, Jamie El-Banna, is known as thego-to-guy for information regarding local conditions in Ishinomaki. He has workedclosely on projects with the British Chamber of Commerce, Ishinomaki 2.0,Samaritan’s Purse, and several others. 
Jamie (far right) welcoming a new group of volunteers to INJM HQ.
While working in Osaka, Jamie travelled out toHigashi-Matsushima on a volunteer trip in mid May. Although that was well afterthe initial rescue phase of the tsunami relief efforts, the level ofdevastation and unmet needs of the refugees that Jamie encountered, made himrealize that there was still tremendous amounts of work that had to be done forthe relief efforts. 
After returning to Osaka, he didn’t feel right settlingback down in the city. There was still so much to be done in thetsunami-affected regions. After a few weeks, he made the dramatic decision toquit his job, sublet his apartment, and moved out to Tent City in Ishinomaki. Thatwas where the core organizational group behind the It’s Not Just Mud projectwas formed.  
Long-term volunteer Manish already muddy by 10:00am.
The name for the project of course, comes from theinitial challenge facing anyone getting involved with post-tsunami clean-up andrelief work. Not only did the devastating force of the tsunami destroy much of what it came into contact with, it also covered nearly everythingelse with a thick layer of toxic, bacteria-breeding, noxious and thick mud. 
Much of theclean-up efforts have been focused on removing this mud… but, as Jamie puts it”it’s not just mud. It’s about the people who are living throughthis terrible tragedy, and helping them get back to a normal life.” 
Although theearly days of the project revolved around clean-up projects coordinated throughlocal volunteer centers, INJM has since expanded their projects. 
As of the endof September, the It’s Not Just Mud project has now moved into two neighboringhouses in the Watanoha district of Ishinomaki. Impressed by their volunteeractivities, the houses were actually offered to the group by refugees who had beenable to move to another district of the city.
Half-restored INJM house in late-September
 When the groupfirst moved in, the first floor of both houses were hollowed-out. The walls andfloors had been badly damaged, festering sludge under the floors, and rottinginsulation in the walls all needed to be extracted, and shattered windowsneeded to be boarded up. 
Over the lasttwo months, Jamie’s group has worked on-top of their other volunteer projectsto restore the house to working shape. By the end of September they hadfloorboards and walls extracted, and removed the tsunami sludge. Soon afterthat they put up new walls and floorboards (generously provided by Samaritan’sPurse), as well as restoring the water and gas. By early October they replaced theelectrical sockets, and soon will have a water heater installed. Even withoutthe water heater, Jamie explained that volunteers are able to visit the localtemporary hot-springs facilities for a hot bath.  
Knocking down a wall on a recent project.
As for the specific projects of INJM, here are theircurrent four main aims:
  1. Encouraging volunteering – They do this by offering assistance in coming in terms of advice and logistical support.
  2. Salvaging homes in the Ishinomaki area – In many cases, only the ground floor of the home was flooded, and in some cases soaked in sea water for up to three days. Months later, the building materials are waterlogged and rotting, and must be removed. This means removing the walls, ceiling, insulation, and flooring, then the 3-5cm layer of mud that is under everything.
    Normally, this kind of work would be undertaken by a professional builder, but because of the enormous number of damaged homes, the waiting list to get a professional builder is extremely long, and the process is costly. They work with experienced volunteers (several of which are trained builders) to perform this manual labor and gut houses, taking them one step closer to being liveable.
    For some families, they have been living on the second floor of their damaged home for months, passing through the rotting and hazardous first floor daily. Making it safe and clean is a significant improvement for these people.
  3. Salvaging homes further afield – INJM work with both local groups in central Ishinomaki and in more remote areas of the region. They have identified the need for this kind of service in towns across the Oshika Peninsula.
  4. Delivering fresh fruit and vegetables to areas that don’t have accessto such things. Now that the Winter is coming, INJM has begun focusing on thedistribution of Winter coats, kerosene heaters, and running a ‘kerosene pickupand delivery service’ for residents of refugee shelters and temporary housingunits without access to a car.

INJM volunteers helping a local sake-shop owner restore her business. 

A popular aspect of the group, is the members’ great sense of humor, andthe openness to new volunteers. The INJM page documents various F.U.Es. Thoseare the “Frequently Used Excuses” that unfortunately have beenpreventing many potential volunteers from making the short trip to Ishinomaki. Hereare the official F.U.E from the INJM webpage: 

F.U.E – Frequently Used Excuses

Below you can find some of the most common reasons peopleuse to not come. They all have a valid basis, but after reading below, I thinkyou’ll find that in actual fact, there’s nothing to worry about!
I’mworried I’ll find something really scary in the rubble!!
 The Self Defense Force has cleared most of the largedebris in Ishinomaki. Most of the work we do is clearing mud that is 2-4cmthick from homes and properties. You might find something that is emotionallytroubling, for example people’s personal belongings or photographs, but it isunlikely you’ll find something truly troubling with the kind of work we do.
I don’thave any experience!!
 Everyonehas to start somewhere! You will always have someone experienced working withyou who can answer your questions and tell you what to do and how to do it.It’s not too difficult, and after a day you’ll quickly learn what needs to bedone, and will be able to teach new volunteers yourself.
I’m notvery strong!!
 Youwon’t be asked to do anything you can’t do. Some jobs do require strength, butif you aren’t cut out for that, there are plenty of things you can do. Plentyof women and older people work with us!
I don’thave any equipment!!
 Allthe professional building equipment will be provided. Please look here for what you shouldbring!
I can’tbook a bus, I don’t read Kanji!!
 Contactus with your dates and we can arrange someone to do that for you.
I don’tspeak Japanese/English!!
 That’sOK! On the work site we will always make sure you understand what you’resupposed to be doing, and there are plenty of people around who can help out ifyou don’t understand. 


If you would beinterested in joining the INJM project, please feel free to contact Jamiedirectly at: jamie[AT]itsnotjustmud[DOT]com


Or visit theirFacebook fan group to ask for more information: